Cuba Chronicle of Events
Issue No. 21, August 15-31, 2006
Cuba Chronicle of Events is produced by the Prima News Agency in Russia in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe. The items in this issue are based on reports from PRIMA-News, Bitacora Cubana, CubaNet, Puente Informativo Cuba Miami, Martí Noticias, RBK, Polit.Ru, News of America, ANN, BBC News, Associated Press, Kmnews, Gazeta,Ru, Novye Izvestia, Telegraf.by, ENI, Blagovest-info, NEWSru.com, Lenta.Ru, RIA Novosti, and Interfax.
Cuban Dissident Gustavo Arcos Dies
A prominent critic of Castro’s communist regime died of pneumonia at the age of 79, according to Cuba’s dissident sources. A neighbor, Clara Villar, said Arcos died in Havana on August 8 at 11.40 a.m. local time. The cause of death is not known but he had spent his last days in hospital.
Arcos fought alongside Fidel Castro during the 1959 revolution and was wounded in the hip during fighting, making him an invalid for the rest of his life. After he became disillusioned with Cuba’s authoritarian direction, he was imprisoned for anti-revolutionary activity. Later he founded the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, the first major dissident group to have appeared in Cuba. He was one of the most respected persons among Cuban fighters for human rights on the island, said fellow dissident Carlos Menendez.
Watching Satellite TV Carries Three-Year Imprisonment
The Cuban government said on August 9 it would prosecute Cubans who use black-market satellite dishes to watch Spanish-language television programs transmitted from the United States. “These [dishes] are fertile means for those who want to carry out Bush administration plans to destroy the Cuban revolution,” warned Granma daily, the official voice of the government. Such an article in this newspaper usually signals that a crackdown is on the way, reports Reuters.
The U.S.-sponsored Radio and TV Marti has recently increased the number of programs dedicated to the fall of Castro’s regime, but only a small number of Cubans can receive its broadcasts. The Cuban government has been successfully jamming the transmission of pro-American cable channels. According to some estimates, there are about 10,000 illegal dishes in use in Cuba right now. Hundreds of people get access to the dish service via hidden cables for $10 a month. From now on, users of illegal satellite dishes in Cuba will face heavy fines or three-year imprisonment.
Police Warn Former Political Prisoner
Havana. Former political prisoner Jose Manuel Pereira said he was summoned by police and warned he would get four years in prison if he attempted to leave the country “by irregular means.” Pereira said a State Security officer calling himself Mario told him that no one who participated in opposition activities would be allowed to leave the country. Then the officer added: “And if you attempt to leave the country illegally you’ll go to prison for four years.”
Pereira said the officer also warned him that he would have to rein in his wife, Gloria Gonzalez, who has been participating in activities in support of the Ladies in White, a group consisting mostly of the wives and mothers of those sentenced to long prison terms in the spring of 2003. Gonzalez is pregnant. Pereira was in prison during most of 2002 and 2003 but was never tried. He is a member of the Andrei Sakharov Party for Human Rights.
Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State Says Castro Does Not Have Cancer
Carlos Lage, vice president of the Cuba’s Council of State, has dismissed rumors that Fidel Castro was suffering from stomach cancer, reports RBK citing AP. After surgery, Castro feels much better and is recovering favorably, according to Lage. He predicted Castro will be well enough to resume his duties in several weeks.
Fidel Castro “Up from His Bed and Going Strong”
Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro is “sitting up and walking” in his hospital ward where he is recuperating after intestinal surgery, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. Castro is recovering successfully and is now undergoing a course of physiotherapy treatment, Granma wrote.
Since July 31, when Fidel Castro temporarily delegated his presidential duties to his younger brother Raul, there has been no official information in Cuba about the health of the Cuban leader. His health condition is a state secret by Castro’s own order. Cuban government officials touring foreign countries have been saying that Castro is “recovering successfully” and their claims are being echoed by some foreign leaders who are Castro’s close allies. On August 13, Fidel Castro turned 80. Official celebrations have been postponed until December 2 of this year.
Cubans Shown Photos of Castro in Red Track Suit
On August 13, as Fidel Castro turned 80, the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper published the first photographs of the Cuban leader since he had intestinal surgery two weeks ago. The pictures show Fidel Castro in a red-and-white sweat suit speaking on the phone and holding Saturday’s edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma. The newspaper also carried Fidel Castro’s message to the Cuban people, saying he felt “very happy” on his 80th birthday. “For all those who care about my health, I promise to fight for it,” the statement said. He thanked the people of Cuba for their love and support and expressed hope the country is “marching on and will continue marching on perfectly well.”
Fidel Castro’s Brother Makes First Public Appearance as President
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Cuba on August 13, Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday, and was greeted at Havana Airport by Raul Castro, who is temporarily in charge of the island.
It was the first time that Fidel’s 75-year-old brother had made a public appearance as Cuba’s interim president, reports AFP. The Cuban leader has delegated presidential duties to his deputy and younger brother Raul on July 31, following intestinal surgery. Official birthday celebrations for Fidel have been postponed to December 2006. The visiting Hugo Chavez had promised to come from Caracas to visit Fidel on his birthday.
Also on Sunday, Raul Castro had a phone talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who offered to help speed up the recovery of the ailing president. Bolivian President Evo Morales also congratulated Fidel Castro on his 80th birthday and promised to bring a cake made with coca leaves for his official birthday bash in December, according to Lenta.ru.
Raul Castro Once Suspected of Cocaine Smuggling
U.S. federal prosecutors were prepared in 1993 to indict Raul Castro, the brother of the Cuban leader, for a drug smuggling conspiracy. The draft indictment was ready, but the Clinton Administration Justice Department overruled it, according to ABC News. The officials say Raul Castro, as Cuba’s defense minister, permitted Colombian drug lords to use Cuban waters and airstrips for smuggling cocaine into the United States. According to the U.S. prosecutors, Castro was engaged in this illegal activity in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Convicted Colombian drug boss Carlos Lehder, who is serving time in the United States, testified that he met several times in Havana with the Cuban defense minister to arrange cocaine smuggling runs into the United States. There has been no comment from official Havana so far, however in the past Fidel Castro has repeatedly denied that his country or his brother had any role in drug smuggling.
Cuban TV Airs First Video of Fidel Castro after His Surgery
Cuban authorities made public some video footage of the bedridden Fidel Castro to confirm that Cuba’s president was successfully recuperating following intestinal surgery. On Monday, local television aired a short video showing a meeting between the Cuban leader and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, ITAR-TASS reported.
Fidel was shown sitting in his hospital bed, with Chavez and his brother Raul, Cuba’s acting president, at his bedside. Castro and Chavez were wearing bright red shirts. Castro looked pale but engaged in jovial conversation with Chavez, who was cracking jokes and showing commandante some pictures.
Raul Castro presented Chavez with a portrait of the Cuban leader painted in 1959, AP reported. The Cuban leader talked with the Venezuelan president for some time making notes in his note-book. Then Chavez and Castro were shown eating yoghurt.
Reserve Mobilization Starts in Cuba
Following the announcement of Fidel Castro’s temporary transfer of power to his younger brother Raul to undergo surgery, Cuba has started mobilizing young men enrolled in the reserves. Mobilization was launched in early August in order to prevent any disturbances that might be triggered by Castro’s illness and temporary change of power in Cuba.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Christians in Totalitarian Cuba Need Help, Says Leader of Ecumenical Movement in Czech Republic
Geneva, Switzerland. Christians in totalitarian Cuba need not only support of international government-backed institutions but also unofficial aid from churches in Europe, said Jitka Klubalova, general secretary of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic. “From our own experience churches in Central and Eastern Europe are aware of what it means to live under a repressive totalitarian regime of the type that in our opinion exists in Cuba,” wrote Klubalova in an open letter to the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Samuel Kobia.
The WCC leader has recently denounced the United States for its plans to tighten sanctions against Cuba. Some U.S. politicians propose to no longer grant licenses for humanitarian aid to Cuba that goes through the Cuban Council of Churches, the ecumenical body which is allegedly controlled by the Castro regime. In Kobia’s opinion, this measure would be “a gross violation of religious freedom.” The Cuban Council of Churches was founded in 1941. Today it has 21 Protestant, Anglican, Evangelical, and Pentecostal member denominations.
“I am working for the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic which, until 1989, had been controlled by the communist regime,” Klubalova said in her letter to Kobia. “Therefore I understand those who have doubts about help to Cuban Christians coming through official organizations.” According to Klubalova, her country’s biggest Protestant community, the Evangelical Church of Moravian Brethren, is developing contacts with the Cuban opposition and churches that are not members of the official Cuban Council of Churches. The leader of the Czech ecumenical movement believes this way of helping to Cuban Christians is more effective. Klubalova also suggested a meeting be held in the Czech Republic where member churches of the WCC could discuss how to help Cuban Christians.
U.S. Eases Immigration Rules for Cubans
The Bush Administration said on Friday it would relax immigration rules for a limited number of Cubans, focusing mainly on reuniting families who have relatives in the United States. At the same time the Bush administration made it clear that it does not encourage a mass migration from Cuba. “We urge the Cuban people to stay on the island, so that they may work for their freedom and a democratic society,” Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson said. “We discourage anyone from risking their life in the open seas in order to travel to the United States.”
Rafters Denied Help
Moa, Cuba. A group of five who became stranded at sea as they attempted to leave Cuba claimed their pleas for help were ignored in three separate instances by the Cuban navy, the coast guard, and a merchant vessel.
Miguel Molina Durán, Nelson Ramírez Suárez, Leonel Tabares Urrutia, Bismar Durán López, and William Lafita sailed from the north coast of Holguín province at about 9 o’clock the night of July 18 in a rickety craft. The next day at about 4:00 pm, they said, the boat’s engine broke down, stranding them they calculate about 14 miles from the Bahamas island chain. Soon after, they were spotted by a Cuban coast guard vessel, to whom they appealed for help in regaining land. They said coast guard personnel told them to broadcast their position so they would be picked up, but no one came.
On July 22 at about 7 am, they were intercepted by a Cuban navy ship about 20 miles from the navy post at Dos Bahías. The navy sailors also ignored their request for help. A little later, at 8:25, they came across a Cuban merchant vessel, the El Jaruco, to whom they appealed for help saying they had sick and dehydrated persons aboard. The captain told them he had no resources to help them and left them to their own devices. The five said they made their way to a coast guard station north of Moa by means of make-shift oars fashioned from other parts of their craft. Once there, they were arrested and taken to the Department of State Security in Holguín for questioning. They were later tried and fined between six and nine thousand pesos for the illegal purchase of the craft, but acquitted on the charge of attempting to leave the island illegally.
About 50 Cuban Illegal Migrants Detained at Guantanamo
About 50 Cuban migrants are being detained indefinitely at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to Democracy Movement, a human rights group, including one who has been held at Guantanamo for nearly two years. CNN also learned that there are children among the Cuban detainees, including a 10-year-old boy with diabetes. The Cubans have been picked up at sea at various times trying to reach the U.S. coast, says Democracy Movement. Normally they would have been returned to Cuba, but it was determined that these migrants have a well-founded fear of persecution if repatriated. The human rights group said that the Cubans would be held at the Guantanamo base until a third country is found to take them.
U.S. Government Makes Concessions to Cubans Wishing to Leave the Island
The Bush administration is considering immigration policy changes for Cubans having relatives in the United States. This policy shift would ease the immigration process and speed issuing the required documents. It was also reported on Tuesday that at the same time the U.S. government would refuse entry to Cubans who illegally sneaked into the U.S. territory. Many Cuba watchers say the new policy has been prompted by a change in U.S.-Cuba relations following Fidel Castro’s departure from power and hospitalization for an emergency surgery. After Castro’s hospitalization, the United States has repeatedly urged the Cuban people to take a new path of development and work for democratic change.
Public Protest against U.S. Policy
Over 400 prominent figures from the world of science, culture, and politics have denounced the U.S. “interference in Cuba’s sovereignty.” The Nobel Prize winners, writers, and scientists demanded that the United States stop its efforts to force “a transition to American democracy” upon the Cuban people. The appeal was voiced in Havana by Roberto Fernandez Retamar, president of the Havana-based group Casa de las Americas.
The authors of the message noted that a wave of U.S. propaganda attacks on Cuba has intensified after Fidel Castro was hospitalized for emergency operation and called on the United States to respect Cuba’s sovereignty and independence. The signatories included physicist Zhorez Alferov (Russia), writer Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina), and religious leader Desmond Tutu (South Africa).
U.S. Court of Appeals Fails to Help the Accused of Spying
A U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled against five men found guilty of spying for the Cuban government. The judge overturned an earlier ruling that found the group could not have received a fair trial. Cuba lashed out at the U.S. government, saying the five were not spying on the U.S., but on Cuban exiles in Miami who were plotting against Fidel Castro’s government. The country's official newspapers have condemned the judgment as “political” and cited a high-level politician as saying, “What is happening now shows U.S. hatred and vengeance toward Cuba.”
Inmate Shot Attempting to Escape
Holguin, Cuba. A prisoner other inmates say was mentally unstable was shot and killed in an alleged escape attempt. Juan Carlos Calzadilla, known as “El Loco,” or the crazy one, to other inmates of the Playa Manteca prison, in Mayara, eastern Cuba, either crossed or was trying to cross the security fence when a guard saw him and fired his rifle, wounding him in the leg. His fellow inmates report that while he was lying on the ground, other guards fired on him, killing him. Calzadilla was awaiting trial on unspecified charges. This was his first time in prison.
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